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Turning Street Maps into Art

Have you ever looked at a map and felt inspired by the straight lines, sharp turns and smooth curves? Karen M. O’Leary feels just that and has turned that feeling into art.

I recently became aware of Karen M. O’Leary of StudioKMO and the beautiful art she creates using city maps as the prize supplier for the Esri Canada Maps and Apps Calendar Contest. Every year, Esri Canada issues a call for submissions where 12 maps are selected to be featured in the company’s annual calendar. This year’s contest offers really unique prizes of black wood framed, Custom Hand Cut Maps by Karen M. O’Leary.  I was really intrigued by her work and wanted to learn more about her background and how she came to make a living turning maps into art.

Karen is an artist and licensed Architect from Charlotte, North Carolina.  She began creating map cut-outs as part of her fifth year thesis in architecture when she was looking to build a sitemap that was more unique and would make her work stand out from her peers. Layering three cut-out maps of lower Manhattan and placing them in a handmade light box gave her a distinctive effect that also ignited a spark.

Her passion blossomed into an unintentional business when she could not afford to frame her favourite piece and decided to list it online.  It was a very large (10 ft. x 8 ft.) cut-out of New York City which included Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.  Several years later she has StudioKMO, an Etsy store where she offers custom hand cut paper maps that are  tailor-made to individual specifications. As well, you can find pre-designed work of beautiful city maps along with other cartographic inspired items such as city map prints, original ink drawings, stretched canvas prints and postcards.  Most of her clients usually contract her to make a piece based on where they live, where they met a spouse, their wedding or honeymoon location or even just a set of cities which hold personal appeal.

Hand drawn, hand cut map of Vancouver, BC.

These days her art keeps her pretty busy as the larger pieces can take 60 - 80 hours to complete and Karen has received some impressive attention. She was recently featured in Oprah’s O Magazine and Martha Stewart Living and her work can be seen in hotels, exhibits and retail location across North America.

For a chance to win one of Karen O’Leary’s beautiful maps, be sure to enter your map created using Esri software by September 12.